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Return of Big Three for Florida Gators is more fizzle than sizzle

Journal: The impact of receiver Kadarius Toney, defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga and linebacker Jonathan Greenard is minimum in the loss to Georgia.
Georgia Bulldogs running back Zamir White (3) is tackled by Florida Gators linebacker Jonathan Greenard (58) after a short gain during the first half of the game at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Nov. 3
Updated Nov. 3

JACKSONVILLE — The anticipated return for three of Florida’s major playmakers was anything but fantastic Saturday in Jacksonville for the annual Gators-Bulldogs rivalry.

Receiver Kadarius Toney (ankle), defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga (shoulder) and linebacker Jonathan Greenard (ankle) hoped to make an impact for a Gators team in the thick of the SEC and College Football Playoff hunt.

Instead, Zuniga — who has missed two games since the LSU loss Oct. 12 — notched only two tackles, one solo. Toney — who has been out for nearly two months — wasn’t targeted in the passing game and had one carry, gaining zero yards.

When asked if Toney could have done more Saturday, coach Dan Mullen said: “I’m sure he could’ve.”

Greenard — who also has been out since the loss in Death Valley — turned in the most promising statline of the three, logging nine total tackles (five solo).

But he wasn’t happy with his tackle-leading performance in the 24-17 loss at TIAA Bank Field.

“I was (expletive) today,” he said after the game.

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Mullen said the injuries haven’t played that much of a role in Florida’s season thus far because his team has played with a “next man up” mentality.

“We’ve just had to deal with that all year long,” Mullen said.

And the Gators had more issues Saturday than the play of the returning trio.

The running game left much to be desired, gaining 21 yards to Georgia’s 119.

And for the 14th straight year, the team with the better rushing total won.

Ghost or Gator?

A promising first half faded badly in the second half for Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, who had tallied a season-high 108 receiving yards vs. LSU.

His longest reception Saturday was a 29-yard slant pass from quarterback Kyle Trask in the second quarter, which forced a first down and was arguably the Gators’ best play of the game.

The Kyles couldn’t hook up in the second half, however, as Pitts was targeted twice, both falling incomplete.

The sophomore finished with four receptions, second behind Freddie Swain’s eight, for 78 yards.

Those pesky little things

The little things proved costly Saturday.

Right from the start, the Gators couldn’t find their footing, with Mullen having to call two timeouts on the first drive.

“We had the wrong personnel on the field for the play call,” he said.

Mullen was vocally upset again in the fourth quarter, ripping into co-offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales. The coach’s frustrations had finally boiled over.

“They signaled the wrong formation,” Mullen said. “And the right receiver wasn’t lined up, and at that point it was too big of a point in the game to not use the timeout to get the first down. That’s a very manageable situation right there.”

The Gators were flagged for six penalties, costing them 40 yards.

Trask wasn’t at all satisfied with the outcome, but the fact that his team stayed within a touchdown and didn’t botch any major plays gave him hope for the rest of the season.

“It’s just the little things and executing at the times where it matters most, and at some points we struggled with that,” he said.

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